Conquest (1937): Clarence Brown’s Fictionalized Historical Melodrama, Starring Charles Boyer as Napoleon and Garbo as Polish Countess Marie Walewska

Conquest, a fictionalized historical melodrama, was the seventh and last collaboration between Garbo and her favorite director, Clarence Brown.
Conquest
Conquest 1937 poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster
Garbo is extremely beautiful in this picture, which came out at what might have been the best year of her sound era, which also saw the release of Camille, directed by George Cukor, and considered by many to feature Garbo’s most full realized performance (for which she won her third and last Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Garbo and Charles Boyer

 

Maria Ouspenskaya and Garbo

 

 

The project had been in development for years, based on MGM’s dream casting of Garbo, as the Polish countess Marie Walewska, Napoleon’s mistress. (In some countries, the movies was released as “Marie Walewska”).
But they could not find the right leading man, within and without MGM. That changed after the Gallic actor Charles Boyer became an international star, thus deemed proper to play Napoleon.
Tale, co-penned by Samuel Hoffenstein, Salka Viertel, and S.N. Behrman is too melodramatic to qualify as a genuine tragic romance and too fake to allow Garbo render a fully realized performance.
But it did not matter, as Garbo was then at the peak of her career, and MGM didn’t spare any money in making a lavish production, casting the film with numerous extras.
A victorious Napoleon Bonaparte, (Boyer) conquers Poland and then launches an unsuccessful seduction of the Countess Marie Walewska (Greta Garbo), who is married to a much older man (Henry Stephenson).
She resists until she becomes convinced that giving in to his charm would help the cause of her country. After her husband annuls their marriage and Napoleon divorces the Empress Josephine (both events at the same time!) the pair are free to formalize their happy relationship.
Just as she declares loves for him, Napoleon announces his sudden and shocking decision to wed the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria for political reasons.
While he doesn’t expect it to impact his relationship with Marie, she leaves him, without ever telling him that she is expecting his child.
Meanwhile, Napoleon’s mother gets emotionally excited by the notion of Maria carrying her grandson.
The shallow story spans over a decade, with title cards that announce the moving-forward plot (two years later…).
The scenes between Napoleon and his son (cute child) are fake and sentimental, and last farewell, when Maria fails to convince the emperor to escape with her, is ridiculous.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Actor: Charles Boyer
Interior Decoration: Cedric Gibbons and William Horning
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context
Garbo was nominated that year for a better performance in a better film, “Camille,” directed by George Cukor.
This was the first of Boyer’s four Best Actor nominations. The winner of the Best Actor Oscar was Spencer Tracy for “Captains Courageous.”
Stephen Goosson received the Art Direction Oscar for Frank Capra’s “Lost Horizon.”

Conquest ( is a 1937 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film which tells the story of the Polish Countess Marie Walewska, who becomes the mistress of Napoleon in order to influence his actions towards her homeland.

It stars Greta Garbo, Charles Boyer, Reginald Owen, Alan Marshal, Henry Stephenson, Leif Erickson, Dame May Whitty, George Zucco, and Maria Ouspenskaya.

The movie was adapted by S.N. Behrman, Samuel Hoffenstein, Helen Jerome and Salka Viertel from the novel Pani Walewska by Wacław Gąsiorowski. It was directed by Clarence Brown and Gustav Machatý (uncredited).

It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Charles Boyer) and Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons and William A. Horning).[5]

Its worldwide gross amounted to $2,141,000. But its massive budget led to a loss of $1,397,000.

Napoleon Bonaparte (Charles Boyer) launches an unsuccessful seduction of the Countess Marie Walewska (Greta Garbo), who is married to a much older man (Henry Stephenson), but she resists until convinced that giving in will save Poland. After her husband annuls their marriage and Napoleon divorces the Empress Josephine, the pair are free to formalize their happy relationship, but Napoleon shocks her by announcing his decision to wed the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria for political reasons. While he doesn’t expect it to impact his relationship with Marie, she leaves him, without ever telling him that she is expecting his child.

 

Greta Garbo as Countess Marie Walewska
Charles Boyer as Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
Reginald Owen as Talleyrand
Alan Marshal as Captain d’Ornano
Henry Stephenson as Count Anastas Walewski
Leif Erickson as Paul Lachinski (as Leif Erikson)
Dame May Whitty as Maria Letizia Buonaparte
Maria Ouspenskaya as Countess Pelagia Walewska
C. Henry Gordon as Prince Poniatowski
Claude Gillingwater as Stephan (Marie’s servant)
Vladimir Sokoloff as Dying soldier
George F. Houston as Grand Marshal George Duro

Commercial Appeal

Boyer’s fee was $125,000, but due to provisions for extra pay for overtime, he ended up earning earning $450,000 for his performance, which Garbo resented, and more importantly, which accounted why the movie did not generate much profit for the studio.
Directed by Clarence Brown
Gustav Machatý (uncredited)
Produced by Bernard H. Hyman
Screenplay by S. N. Behrman
Salka Viertel
Samuel Hoffenstein
Talbot Jennings
Zoë Akins
Based on Pani Walewska
1933 book
by Wacław Gąsiorowski
Helen Jerome
Starring Greta Garbo
Charles Boyer
Reginald Owen
Alan Marshal
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Karl Freund
Edited by Tom Held

Production
company

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Distributed by Loew’s, Inc.

Release date

October 22, 1937

Running time
113 minutes